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Book Review: 'The Cinema of George Lucas'

Nancy Cartwright discusses and gives advice about an important, but little talked about area of the voice acting business promotions and marketing.

For fans of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and filmmaker George Lucas in general, The Cinema of George Lucas chronicles the life and work of the man who revitalized science-fiction films and revolutionized the vfx industry. The coffee table book is broken up into eight chapters the first follows Lucas through his childhood into the completion of his first film THX 1138. The book dedicates the next two sections to the films, American Graffiti and Star Wars. The third chapter looks at the rest of the original Star Wars trilogy, the Indiana Jones franchise as well as other films Lucas produced such as Labyrinth and Willow. For visual effects fans and pros, the Immaculate Reality section will be of most interest, as it covers the immergence of digital effects and the growth of Industrial Light & Magic. Parts six through eight return to the Star Wars universe, recounting the production of the prequels and beyond.

When one first opens the book, you are instantly drawn in by the plethora of wonderful images. The pages are filled with large color and black-and-white film images, behind-the-scenes pictures and personal snapshots. Some of the pictures from Lucas early student work have never been seen before.

For the text, writer Marcus Hearn drew upon exclusive interviews and the vast Lucasfilm archives. The book not only looks at how Lucas created his art, but also delves a bit into the experiences in his life that shaped it. Amazingly, the book actually has a picture from The Modesto Bee newspaper of the horrific auto accident that Lucas survived when he was 18, which changed his mind about becoming a racecar driver.

Setting the tone for the entire book is a wonderful personal foreward from director Ron Howard, who starred in Lucas American Graffiti and later directed the Lucas-produced-written fantasy film, Willow. Hearn uses a biography tone to the text, which is engaging. The tome is very detailed, but not so that its bogged down. The story of Lucas life moves quickly and one is struck by all he has accomplished and all that he has been witness to in the history of cinema.

For film buffs, one of the most interesting parts of the book will be the shooting schedules for all of the films Lucas directed. (The only exception is Revenge of the Sith.) Likewise, Hearn fills the book with details that can be a great encouragement to any aspiring filmmaker on how the process is done and what can and inevitably goes wrong. The tome delves into all the aspects of creating film from casting to budgets to visual and special effects.

Moreover, the book is filled with wonderful sidebars, which divulge trivia from the list of names Universal approved for American Graffiti to various deleted scenes to profiles on Lucas influences. Some of the other sidebars of note are the actual images of the first page of Lucas handwritten treatments for his films. For trivia hounds, knowing that Episode I was tentatively titled The Beginning and Episode II was Jar Jars Great Adventure will make them the envy of other fans at cocktail parties for years to come.

Beyond just trivia, some of the sidebars highlight interesting changes made throughout the filmmaking process. For instance, in an early draft of Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi does not die and goes on to give the weaknesses of the Death Star to the Rebel Alliance. Additionally, Lucas gives reasons for cutting three scenes that intercut Luke Skywalker and his friends with the space battle taking place overhead. These scene were actually filmed, but were later removed. Likewise, Indiana Jones was originally named Indiana Smith and it was director Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Quills) who brought the supernatural twist to the idea.

In addition, the asides highlight many of the accomplishments and advancements that Lucas was involved in. Before Star Wars, only 20 or so films had used Dolby Stereo. The success of the film spurred many theaters to demand Dolby equipment. Many know that Lucas formed ILM to handle the effects for Star Wars, but he also formed Sprocket Systems to handle the editing. The film and sound editing company helped form Lucas idea that sound is 50% of the motion-picture experience. Sprocket helped launch THX Sound System in 1982 and later became what is now known as Skywalker Sound. Moreover, Lucas formed the George Lucas Educational Foundation to help advance education techniques, believing that the way we are educated is based on 19th-Century ideas and methods. He also won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Irving G. Thalberg award for his body of work without having been a member of the Academy. More recently, Lucas has been at the forefront in the implementation of digital projection as part of a total digital cinema.

The Immaculate Reality chapter should be the most interesting to the audience of VFXWorld, since it begins with Lucasfilms original creation of EditDroid, the first disc-based nonlinear editing system, which was developed with the oversight of Ed Catmull, who would head up the early creation of Pixar at Lucasfilm. The chapter focuses a good portion of time on the TV series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which featured the first digital character. It also delves rather briefly into the digital changes made in the original trilogy, quoting Lucas as saying, We called it an experiment in learning new technology and hoped that the theatrical release would pay for the work we had done. It was basically a way to take this thorn out of my side and have the thing finished the way I originally wanted it to be finished.

In the end, the book is a voluminous look at George Lucas in general and the filmmaking process at the student and professional level in a broader sense. Every fan of Lucas should own this book. Every person interested in how a film empire is formed should read this for inspiration.

The Cinema of George Lucas by Marcus Hearn, foreward by Ron Howard; Harry N. Abrams; New York, 2005; ISBN: 0-8109-4968-7, hard cover, $50; 264 pages.

Rick DeMott is the managing editor of Animation World Network. Previously, he worked in various production and management positions in the entertainment industry. He is a contributor to the humor, absurdist and surrealist short story website Unloosen.

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